Monday, October 13, 2014

Truth and love belong together

In his homily at Mass today in Casa Santa Marta (I love saying those words together!), Pope Francis, without a doubt indirectly referring to the just-released Relatio post disceptationem of the Extraordinary Synod, preached on what he called the "Holy Law." He pointed out that the law is not an end in itself. Towards the conclusion of his homily he posed some questions for us to ponder:
And this should make us think: am I attached to my things, my ideas, [are they] closed? Or am I open to God's surprises? Am I at a standstill or am I on a journey? Do I believe in Jesus Christ - in Jesus, in what he did: He died, rose again and the story ended there - Do I think that the journey continues towards maturity, toward the manifestation of the glory of the Lord? Am I able to understand the signs of the times and be faithful to the voice of the Lord that is manifested in them? We should ask ourselves these questions today and ask the Lord for a heart that loves the law - because the law belongs to God – but which also loves God’s surprises and the ability to understand that this holy law is not an end in itself
This is kind of issue that any serious Christian should think about, ponder on, and pray about quite often.

I was not borne nor was I raised a Catholic. Rather, my religious background, as I experienced it, was what I can only describe as hyper-legalistic. Perfection was achieved solely as the result of my own efforts and there were no ordinary means of grace I could lay hold of to help me when, despite my own fervent attempts at perfection, I failed.

As a result of my religious formation, I agree wholeheartedly that the "Holy Law" is not an end itself. It is a means to an end. The end to which it is a means is the very end for which we are made, redeemed, and towards which are drawn, not against our will, but with our cooperation, which may require great sacrifice, through the circumstances of our lives. I can only agree when Pope Francis asserted that our "journey" is a pedagogy "that leads us to Jesus Christ, the final encounter, where there will be this great sign of the Son of man." Indeed, the title of the Communion & Liberation Spiritual Exercises back in 2009 captured this well: Experience: The Instrument For a Human Journey.

It also occurs to me that the "Holy Law" cannot be imposed on anybody. It can only be freely adhered to and then only out of love for God and neighbor. The purpose of obedience is to respond in love to the One one who loved us first. This was set forth beautifully by Hans Urs Von Balthasar in his book Who Is a Christian?:
Christianity has a very unusual proposal to make with regard to the general desire of all religions for unity with God. Religions, provided they do not remain stuck in in ritualism, must ultimately content themselves either with removing the difference between God and the world or else with having men merge into God (in death, in ecstasy or meditation, and so on). How is it possible, Christianity asks, for there to be an identity between God and man, since both are and remain essentially different? And it answers: Such an identity is possible by virtue of the fact that God gives his love the character of obedience and man gives his obedience the sense of love" (72-73)
Ministry that is truly pastoral endeavors both to walk alongside others and to lead them into the Way of Truth, which is the Way of life eternal. It seems to me that attempts to separate truth and love are tantamount to cutting Christ in two.

I cannot see the multiplication of false dilemmas as in any way useful. Positing such disjunctions, I think, is unnecessarily confusing and divisive. It seems to me that one thing often missing from many ecclesial deliberations these days is any explicit reference to truth. From where I sit, we could use a healthy does of of "caritas in veritate," which is to say a deeper reflection on the absolutely necessary relationship of truth to love. Without truth love is not possible. As Jesus says in today's Gospel, referring to the people of Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria, "because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here" (Luke 11:32). If that is not Love bearing witness to the Truth, I don't know what is.

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